John Newton to Rev. Scott, Letter II: Sincerity, The Trinity, The way of salvation

20130301-092732.jpg“July 14, 1775.

My dear Friend–I gladly adopt your address, and can assure you that the interchange of every letter unites my heart more closely to you. I am glad to find that your views of articles and creeds are not likely to hinder you from going forward in your present situation; and if without contracting your usefulness, they only prove a bar to your preferment, I am sure it will be no grief of mind to you at the hour of death, or the day of judgment–that you were enabled to follow the dictates of conscience in opposition to all the pleas of custom or self-interest.

Since, therefore, I have no desire of shaking your resolves, may we not drop this subject entirely? For, indeed, I act but an awkward part in it, being by no means myself an admirer of articles and creeds, or disposed to be a warm advocate for church power. The propriety of our national church establishment, or of any other, is what I have not much to do with; I found it as it is, nor have I influence to alter it were I willing. The question in which I was concerned was simply, Whether I, things being as they are, could submit to it, so as conscientiously to take a designation to the ministry under it? I thought I could; I accordingly did, and I am thankful that I never have seen cause to repent of it.

You seem gently to charge me with a lack of candor in what I observed or apprehended concerning Socinians. I am far from thinking the Socinians are all hypocrites–but I think they are all in a most dangerous error; nor do their principles exhibit to my view a whit more of the genuine fruits of Christianity than deism itself. You say, “If they are sincere, and fail not for lack of diligence in searching, I cannot help thinking, that God will not condemn them for an inevitable defect in their understandings.” Indeed, my friend, I have such a low opinion of man in his depraved state, that I believe no one has real sincerity in religious matters until God bestows it; and when He makes a person sincere in his desires after truth, He will assuredly guide him to the possession of it in due time, as our Lord speaks, John 6:44, 45.

To suppose that any people can sincerely seek the way of salvation, and yet miss it through an inevitable defect of their understandings, would contradict the plain promises of the gospel, such as Matthew 7:7, 8, John 7:16, 17; but to suppose that nothing is necessary to be known, which some people who profess sincerity cannot receive, would be in effect to make the Scripture a nose of wax, and open a wide door for scepticism. I am not a judge of the heart; but I may be sure, that whoever makes the foundation-stone a rock of offence, cannot be sincere in his inquiries. He may study the Scripture accurately–but he brings his own preconceived sentiments with him; and instead of submitting them to the touchstone of truth–he makes them a rule by which he interprets. That they who lean to their own understandings should stumble and miscarry–I cannot wonder; for the same God who has promised to fill the hungry with good things–has threatened to send the rich empty away. So Matthew 11:25.

It is not through defect of understanding–but a lack of simplicity and humility, that so many stumble like a blind man at noon-day, and can see nothing of those great truths which are written in the gospel as with a sun-beam.

You wish me to explain myself concerning the doctrine of the Trinity. I will try; yet I know I cannot, any further than as He who taught me shall be pleased to bear “witness in your heart to what I say.

My first principle in religion, is what the Scripture teaches me of the utter depravity of human nature, in connection with the spirituality and sanction of the law of God. I believe we are by nature sinners, by practice universally transgressors; that we are dead in trespasses and sins; and that the bent of our natural spirit is enmity against the holiness, government, and grace of God.

Upon this ground, I see, I feel, and acknowledge the necessity of such a salvation as the gospel proposes, which at the same time that it precludes boasting, and stains the pride of all human glory–affords encouragement to those who may be thought, or who may think themselves, the weakest or the vilest of mankind. I believe, that whatever notions a person may take up from education or system–no one ever did, or ever will, feel himself and own himself to be such a lost, miserable, hateful sinner–unless he is powerfully and supernaturally convinced by the Spirit of God. There is, when God pleases, a certain light thrown into the soul, which differs not merely in degree–but in kind, from anything that can be effected or produced by moral persuasion or argument.

But (to take in another of your queries), the Holy Spirit teaches or reveals no new truths, either of doctrine or precept–but only enables us to understand what is already revealed in the Scripture. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isaiah 8:20. Here a change takes place, the person that was spiritually blind–begins to see. The sinner’s character, as described in the word of God, he finds to be a description of himself–that he is afar off, a stranger, a rebel; that he has hitherto lived in vain. Now he begins to see the necessity of an atonement, an advocate, a shepherd, a comforter; he can no more trust to his own wisdom, strength and goodness; but, accounting all his former gain but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ, he renounces every other refuge, and ventures his all upon the person, work, and promise of the Redeemer.

In this way, I say, he will find the doctrine of the Trinity not only a proposition–but a principle; that is, from his own needs and situation, he will have an abiding conviction, that the Son and Holy Spirit are God, and must be possessed of the attributes and powers of deity, to support the offices the Scriptures assign them, and to deserve the confidence and worship the Scriptures require to be placed in them, and paid to them. Without this awakened state of mind, a theologian, reputed orthodox, will blunder wretchedly even in defending his own opinions. I have seen labored defenses of the Trinity, which have given me not much more satisfaction than I should probably receive from a dissertation upon the rainbow composed by a man blind from his birth! In short, a saving knowledge of God cannot be attained by studious exertions on our parts; it must be by a revealing of the gospel to the heart, on His part! “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. No one knows the Son except the Father; and no one knows the Father except the Son–and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him!” Matthew 11:25-27. “Simon Peter answered: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God! Jesus replied: Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven!” Matthew 16:16-17

This is not an objective revelation of new truth–but subjectively of new light in us. Then he who runs may read. Perhaps you may not quite understand my meaning, or not accede to my sentiment at present; I have little doubt, however–but the time is coming when you will. I believe the Lord God has given you that sincerity which he never disappoints.

Far be it from me to arrogate infallibility to myself, or to any writer or preacher; yet, blessed be God, I am not left to float up and down the uncertain tide of opinion, in those points wherein the peace of my soul is nearly concerned. I know, yes I infallibly know whom I have believed. I am under no more doubt about the way of salvation–than of the way to London! I cannot be deceived, because the Word of God cannot deceive me. It is impossible, however, for me to give you or any other person full satisfaction concerning my evidence, because it is of an experimental nature.

In general, it arises from the views I have received of the power, compassion, and grace of Jesus; and a consciousness that I, from a conviction of my sin and misery–have fled to him for refuge, entrusted and devoted myself and my all to him. Since my mind has been enlightened, everything within me, and everything around me–confirms and explains to me what I read in Scripture; and though I have reason enough to distrust my own judgment every hour–yet I have no reason to question the great essentials, which the Lord himself has taught me.

Sincerely and affectionately yours.

John Newton”

About John Newton

John Newton was born 24 July 1725, and died 21 December 1807. He was a former shipmaster and slave trader, turned minister of the gospel, and author of the famous hymn, Amazing Grace. I have published five letters that he wrote to a fellow clergyman by the name of Rev. Thomas Scott, who held to Socinian beliefs.

“Socinianism denies the full deity of Christ, predestination, original sin, total inability (of man to convert himself), the atonement as a penal satisfaction, and justification by faith alone.” (Theopedia)

Through these thoughtful and gracious letters Reverend Scott received from John Newton, He accepted the gospel in its fulness, and was born again. The story of his conversion and shift from Socinianism to embracing the good news as expressed in Evangelical Christianity can be read in his brief autobiography, The Force of Truth.

Letter I: Religious knowledge Gradual
Letter II.–Sincere inquirers after truth–The Trinity–The way of salvation not a matter of doubt.
Letter III: The New Birth, the Gospel, Human Depravity
Letter IVa: Predestination
Letter IVb: Divine Sovereignty
Letter V: Reason and Scripture, Faith and Works

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